34 million Americans were scammed last Black Friday — how to shop safely this year

Person holding a credit card in one hand and a phone in the other
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The biggest shopping day of the year is just around the corner and there are already some excellent Black Friday deals to be had. However, you need to be careful when shopping online during both Black Friday and Cyber Monday as scammers will also be out in full force.

According to a new blog post from NordVPN, 34 million Americans were targeted by scammers during Black Friday and Cyber Monday last year. Of the shoppers surveyed as part of this research, 40% of Americans said they were scammed while shopping online.

Surprisingly, almost half (48%) of respondents said they weren’t afraid while shopping online despite the risks associated with doing so. When it comes to how to stay safe online during Black Friday and Cyber Monday though, cybersecurity expert at NordVPN, Adrianus Warmenhoven stressed that if a deal seems too good to be true it probably is.

Whether you’re looking to pick up something for yourself or to cross a few names off your holiday shopping list, here’s everything you need to know about how to shop safely online along with some steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim to scammers this Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

What you absolutely shouldn’t do when looking for deals

From AirPods to the best OLED TVs, there are plenty of great deals to be had on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. However, some shoppers are willing to trade a bit of their own privacy for even bigger discounts.

For instance, NordVPN found that 87% of US respondents were willing to provide at least one piece of personal information to online retailers for a better deal. From their full names to their email addresses and even their banking information, a large majority of the U.S. shoppers surveyed didn’t mind disclosing their personal info to receive a gift, discount or a free service from an online retailer.

While providing your first name or email address is one thing, some of the other shoppers were willing to disclose a whole lot more for a great deal or offer. From their birth date (37%) to their home address (24%) and even their credit card numbers (5%) and Social Security numbers (2%), a small percentage of respondents were willing to give away their most sensitive private information in search of a great deal or offer — something you should never do under any circumstances.

With this kind of personal information in hand, a scammer or other cybercriminals could easily commit fraud or even identity theft. Although the best identity theft protection services can help if this does happen, there is a catch: you need to be a paying subscriber before you fall victim to identity theft.  

Without the extra help you can get from a service like Aura or LifeLock, recovering from identity theft can take months or even years. For this reason, you absolutely want to play it close to the chest when it comes to providing retailers with your personal information. Even if you’re shopping at a legitimate online store like Amazon or Best Buy, they can be hacked or suffer a data breach and then, hackers could get their hands on your personal data, even if you’ve been super careful while shopping online.

How to shop safely online on Black Friday and Cyber Monday

A woman looking at a smartphone while using a laptop

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Besides disclosing as little personal information as possible, there are a few other steps you can take to shop safely online this holiday season.

If you’re going off the beaten path while looking for Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals, you’re going to want to check the URLs of the sites you visit. For those using Google Chrome, you just need to hover your mouse over a link to inspect where it takes you or if you’re already on a site, you’re going to want to check your browser’s address bar. Sites that start with “https” are going to be safer than those that just have “http”. 

Likewise, you want to look out for misspelled websites as cybercriminals often impersonate popular brands. While the site itself may appear legitimate, checking its URL is an easy way to determine whether or not it’s fake. Another thing you want to look out for in regard to websites are shortened URLs. These can take you to any website, so instead of clicking on them, you’re better off finding a deal yourself on the retailer’s actual page.

For additional protection, though, you should also be using the best antivirus software on your PC, the best Mac antivirus software on your Apple computer and one of the best Android antivirus apps on your smartphone. At the same time, many of the best VPN services include extra security tools like data breach scanners and malicious site blockers that can also help keep you safe online.

If you’re worried about your credit card number ending up in the hands of hackers, Google Pay offers a service that replaces the real number on your credit card with a virtual one. This way, if it is stolen by hackers, there’s nothing they can do with it. Using PayPal is another good option as it’s easy to get refunded if you do order something from scammers accidentally.

Even if you don’t think you’ve been scammed this Black Friday or Cyber Monday, it’s still a good idea to check your bank statements next week for any signs of fraud. That way you can promptly report them to your bank before they get lost in the shuffle.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the perfect time to get gifts for your loved ones or even yourself but if you’re not careful, you could end up paying a lot more than you would have if you had paid full price for that deal.

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Anthony Spadafora
Senior Editor Security and Networking

Anthony Spadafora is the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to password managers and the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. Before joining the team, he wrote for ITProPortal while living in Korea and later for TechRadar Pro after moving back to the US. Based in Houston, Texas, when he’s not writing Anthony can be found tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.